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To turn pro or not to turn pro, that is the question.
No, that’s not coming from Bill Shakespeare, that’s what’s facing former Rio Rancho High School ace Zach Bravo, a right-hander taken by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 29th round Wednesday.
With two years of college eligibility ahead of him, Bravo said he’s not sure if turning pro so soon is the right thing to do. If he decides the money structure isn’t right for him at the time, he’ll be heading to pitch in 2020 at Lamar (Colo.) Community College.
Since being booted from the Rams baseball team as a senior —Bravo says it’s the best thing that happened to him — he’s logged two good seasons at two colleges.
A 6-3 lanky right-hander, and mostly used as a starter with two appearances out of the bullpen, he was 7-4 with a 4.27 ERA in a team-leading 80 innings for Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan., this spring, with 97 strikeouts. That earned him second-team All-Jayhawk West Conference honors.
In 2018, at Eastern Arizona College, he struggled, record-wise, going 2-6 with a 4.70 ERA, but fanned 65 batters in 61 and 1/3 innings.
Nobody’s is prouder of Bravo than RRHS baseball coach Ron Murphy.
“We had to dismiss him from the team for disciplinary reasons,” Murphy said. “And that was one of the most-difficult things I’ve had to do in my life. (Since then), he’s worked out at our field.”
Murphy says it’s the kind of plot movies are made of — “a book at least,” similar to “The Rookie,” the true story of Jim Morris, who coincidentally briefly pitched for Tampa Bay.
“(Bravo) was a competitor — he would back down from no challenger,” Murphy recalled. “If he wasn’t having a good day, he made it a good day. He was by far our ace pitcher for years. Him and (former Ram) Josh Walker had that same thing.
“And not only (was he) a competitor on the mind, he was a good left-handed hitter,” Murphy added. “I’m as proud of him as any kid in 34 years — he got there from a different direction. And the fact we still have a good relationship makes me feel good.”
Born in Fort Collins, Colo., Bravo was raised in Rio Rancho, where he attended Cielo Azul Elementary and then Mountain View Middle School before playing for the Rams.
Bravo was 4-2 in the 2016 season, capped by an excruciating 2-1 loss to Carlsbad in the state championship game at Isotopes Park. He had decisions in four of the Rams’ final seven games that season, including a 4-3 semifinal victory over Cleveland.
Just past the midway mark of his senior season (2017), in which he pitched sparingly and played mostly in the outfield, he was dismissed from the team for violating team rules.
“Getting kicked off my senior year in high school was not good,” Bravo recalled. “I was not a model player, often in trouble in high school. I showed up late for batting practice before our first district game with Cleveland. (Murphy) told me that was the final straw — it kinda motivated me to work better.”
Since then, and at both colleges he’s pitched for, “I’ve become a better teammate, student, better person. I messed around in high school, thought I was better than everybody — I was the dude.
“It set me on the path — college baseball, and I got good grades.”
Bravo said he was aware MLB scouts were keeping an eye on him, especially since he added a few miles an hour to his fastball.
“Once the spring started, things heated up,” he said. “They started looking at me in the fall. I had five or six starts in the spring and picked up 2-3 miles an hour, from 86 to 89, and topped at 94. That was a big jump from when I was a (high school) senior — I was our No. 1 out there every Thursday.”
As a youngster, he was a fan of Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman, and Bravo said he’d prefer a starting role to a relief role in pro ball.
“I like being a starter, setting a tempo for the game. I like being in control,” he said.
And he’s in control of his destiny: “I’m still deciding if I want to go or not; I like the coach at Lamar, where I’m going next year — and I can potentially go higher (in the 2020 MLB draft).”